There was a lot to unpack from this week’s Pac-12 action, but only two results reverberated across the country.
Headlines from two major newspapers tell the story.
“Can Huskies recover from a stinker for the ages against Montana?” – Seattle Times
“College Football Saturday: How UCLA Can Become a Playoff Contender” – Los Angeles Times.
Quotes reveal the significance:
"This isn’t Bemidji State now. This is the Washington Huskies. This is App State over Michigan.” -- Montana coach Bobby Hauck
“It’s good to have wet hair on Saturday night” -- UCLA coach Chip Kelly.
Yep, UCLA’s 38-27 victory over No. 16 LSU has the L.A. media suggesting that the Bruins could get into the four-team College Football Playoff for the national championship.
Chip Kelly, who is suddenly an offensive genius again, got doused with water following the upset win:
Picked to finish fourth in Pac-12 South in the preseason media poll, the Bruins probably will be ranked in the top 25 this week following what some are calling the Pac-12’s most important victory since an Oregon team coached by Kelly knocked off Florida State is in the national semifinals of the 2014 season. (This week’s AP poll is delayed because No. 9 Notre Dame plays a Sunday evening game.)
UCLA had a 210-49 advantage on the ground against LSU, an SEC team with a reputation for physical play and outstanding defense.
Oh, what a boost UCLA’s showing on national television would do for the Pac-12’s sagging football reputation -- except that . . . .
Meanwhile, in Seattle, No. 20 Washington’s 13-7 loss to FCS team Montana was called “perhaps the most shocking defeat in school history” by Husky Maven.
Montana head coach Hauck, a former Washington assistant coach, compared Montana’s upset with Appalachian State’s 34-32 victory over No. 5 Michigan in 2007.
Montana’s win did not quite match the App State victory, but it was just the sixth time since the FCS label was invented in 1978 that an FCS team beat a ranked FBS opponent.
The Grizzlies had lost to Washington 63-7 in their previous meeting four years ago, and their only victory over the Huskies in their 19 prior meetings came in 1920. Montana was a 22.5-point underdog this time, and the over/under on Saturday’s game was 52.5 points, with oddsmakers expecting Washington to score at will.
The Huskies managed just seven points, and after rolling down the field 78 yards for a touchdown on their first possession less than five minutes into the game, the Huskies failed to score another point. In the remaining 55 minutes, Washington gained just 28 rushing yards on 21 carries, an average of 1.3 yards per attempt.
Three potential wide receiver starters did not play for the Huskies, but that does not explain the offensive shortcomings. Washington quarterback Dylan Morris was sacked three times and threw three interceptions, although two were on tipped passes.
The Huskies’ offensive shutdown after its opening drive was similar to Cal's offensive shutdown against Nevada.
The five questions
1. What is the national image of Pac-12 football now?
UCLA’s game against LSU was expected to establish the conference’s national reputation for 2021. But despite the Bruins’ impressive win, Washington’s embarrassing loss to an FCS team as well as Stanford’s feeble showing against Kansas State, Cal’s loss to Nevada, Washington State’s loss to 17-point underdog Utah State and Oregon’s struggle to get past 20.5-point underdog Fresno State may have offset all the good that UCLA did.
2. Has the balance of power shifted from the Pac-12 North to the Pac-12 South?
Nine of the 10 Pac-12 champions since the conference was expanded to 12 teams have come from the Pac-12 North. But five of the six North teams were beaten this weekend, the only winner being Oregon, which was less than impressive and downright lucky to get past Fresno State.
Meanwhile, five of the South teams won their games, with UCLA’s victory over LSU being the centerpiece while the South's other four wins were all by at least 23 points. The only loss was by Arizona, which was surprisingly competitive in a 24-16 loss to BYU.
3. Will Oregon star Kayvon Thibodeaux play against Ohio State next week?
The Ducks’ standout defensive end suffered a sprained foot in the first half that ended his day against Fresno State, and his loss was noticeable.
With Thibedeaux in the game, the Ducks controlled the game, putting a constant pass rush on Fresno State quarterback Jake Haener. Thibodeaux’s sack and resulting fumble by Haener led directly to an Oregon touchdown.
With Thibodeaux sidelined, Haener had all the time he needed to carve up the Oregon pass defense, and the Ducks barely survived.
X-rays were negative, and Ducks coach Mario Cristobal was optimistic that the injury is not serious. But you just can’t tell about sprains, and without Thibodeaux, expected to be a top-five pick in the NFL draft, the Ducks' chances in Columbus would diminish significantly.
4. Is the Pac-12 ready for what awaits next week?
Besides Oregon’s game at fourth-ranked Ohio State, a humbled Washington team goes to Ann Arbor to face a Michigan team coming off a 47-14 win over Western Michigan, Colorado faces top-10-team Texas A&M, Cal heads to TCU following its odd loss to Nevada, and Utah travels to Provo to face BYU.
UCLA has a bye, which may help the Bruins avoid a letdown.
5. What is the quarterback situation at Stanford, Oregon State, Washington State and Washington?
Tanner McKee and Jack West split time for Stanford and neither did anything to separate himself in a 24-7 loss to Kansas State, with the Cardinal’s only score coming with 3:16 left in the game.
Oregon State’s offense was more productive when Chance Nolan replaced starter Sam Noyer, a second-team all-Pac-12 selection last season at Colorado. And what about Tristan Gebbia, the Beavers starter at the beginning of last season who sat out this year’s opener with a hamstring injury.
Jarrett Guarantano got the start for Washington State, but Jayden de Laura played much of the game in the 26-23 loss to Utah State.
We assume Dylan Morris will remain the starting quarterback at Washington, but after scoring just seven points in the loss to Montana, you wonder whether highly touted freshman Sam Huard will get a look, even though he was listed as the No. 3 quarterback on the Huskies' opening-game depth chart.
The Pac-12 top five teams:
1. UCLA (2-0) – If you had no preconceived notions about Pac-12 teams, the Bruins’ early results would merit the top spot without a question.
2. Utah (1-0) – The Utes’ 40-17 win over preseason Big Sky favorite Weber State looks better after Washington lost to Montana, picked to finish second in the Big Sky
3. USC (1-0) – The Trojans’ 30-7 victory over San Jose State was far closer than the score suggests, but a win over a good Mountain West teams counts for something.
4. Oregon (1-0) – Well, the Ducks did win, although they were fortunate to get past Fresno State, which held the lead in the fourth quarter.
5. Arizona State (1-0) – Beating a lousy Southern Utah team by 27 points didn’t prove much, especially since the Sun Devils committed 12 penalties for 120 negative yards in the first half, when they were their own worst enemy. "The Sun Devils actually played the Sun Devils," ASU coach Herm Edwards said afterward. "It was bad football, sloppy football. It was embarrassing football. When we stop playing the Sun Devils, because they're really not on our schedule, we have a chance to be a pretty good football team."
Pac-12 Player of the Year Standings
1. Zach Charbonnet, UCLA running back – After rushing for 106 yards and three touchdowns on six carries against Hawaii, Charbonnet added 117 yards on the ground and a score on 11 carries against LSU. He’s averaging 13.1 yards per carry and a touchdown every 4.25 carries. He’s a transfer from Michigan.
2. Charlie Brewer, Utah quarterback – Brewer was 19-for-27 for 233 yards, two touchdowns and one interception in the win over Weber State. But four of his passes were dropped by receivers and his pick came on a Hail Mary at the end of the first half. So his line should have read 23-for-27 for about 260 yards, two TDs and no picks. Oh, and he’s a transfer too, spending last season at Baylor.
3. Drake London, USC receiver – He had 12 catches for 137 yards against San Jose State, and he seemed to be the Trojans’ target on every pivotal play.
4. Kayvon Thibodeaux, Oregon defensive end – Strangely enough, his perceived value may have increased when he missed most of Saturday’s game against Fresno State. His sack and resulting forced fumble led directly to an Oregon touchdown, and the Ducks seemed to be in control of the game when he was available. When he was sidelined, the Ducks looked vulnerable and barely pulled out the win.
5. Vacant – USC quarterback Kedon Slovis, Colorado running back Jarek Broussard and Arizona State quarterback Jayden Daniels performed adequately, but none of them did enough to warrant a spot in the Top Five. Yet.
Top three defensive plays of the week
3. Interception by USC defensive end Drake Jackson:
2. Sack and forced fumble by Oregon's Kayvon Thibodeaux:
1. Acrobatic interception by Stanford's Kyu Blu Kelly:
Ruled an incomplete pass on the field, the call was overturned after a video review confirmed that Kelly got one foot down inbounds after making the pick.
Follow Jake Curtis of Cal Sports Report on Twitter: @jakecurtis53
Find Cal Sports Report on Facebook by searching: @si.calsportsreport or going to https://www.facebook.com/si.calsportsreport